Pre Race Report
“I’m not a good runner.” This has been my story for years. I have been known to pass someone in my age group on the bike during a triathlon and tell her “don’t worry, I can’t run”. I always wanted to run the Boston Marathon but didn’t think it was possible for me. I thought I would have to wait until I was much older and had a slower qualifying time.
Over the past year I have worked diligently to change that story. I started to get a bit faster on the run and to achieve some pretty big athletic milestones (Team USA in the Aquabike division in 2017) and got to thinking maybe, just maybe, I COULD qualify for Boston! So I had the conversation with my coach (Jaime Dispenza) who believed I could do it long before I did. He suggested the Eugene Marathon – in the spring so a perfect build up for triathlon season, sea level, and a flat, fast and scenic course. The only potential drawback would be a 50/50 chance of rain. With family and friends in Oregon, we didn’t hesitate to sign up.
We officially started training right after Christmas. Todd didn’t want to sacrifice his other triathlon related goals (or his golf game) this year to dedicate his focus to his own attempt to BQ (his qualifying standard is much faster than mine!), so the intent from the beginning was for him to pace me for as long as possible (hopefully to the finish line!) to my own BQ.
In order for me to qualify to be eligible to register for the Boston Marathon in 2019 I have to complete a marathon in less than 3 hours and 45 minutes (based upon my age and gender). However, that is not a guarantee that I will get in based upon limitations on the number of participants allowed in the race, so it is recommended that I have at least a 3 minute cushion under this time. My goal for this race is 3:40, which would put me safely in Boston without worry. This equates to a 8 minutes and 23 seconds per mile pace for 26.2 miles.
I have run 26.2 miles on two separate occasions. The first was the Big Sur Marathon in 2010. My main goal then was to not walk. It was a beautiful run along the Pacific Coast Highway and I finished in 4:06. In 2012 I ran 26.2 miles at the end of Ironman Canada. My main goal was to get to that finish line, and I did, just 2 minutes behind Todd with a run time of 4:30.
The training for this race has been amazing. Before almost every workout that had a specific time attached to it I thought “I can’t do that”. But it is what I needed to do to hit my goal, and I gave it my all. And most times I hit my paces – surprising myself along the way. My coach knew I could do it, but I certainly didn’t! It still seems unreal that I could run 8:23 pace for 26.2 miles, but I am believing in my coach and believing in my training. I surprise myself often, so why not now?
I am on the plane now on the way to Oregon and am excited to see what the weekend will bring. I have done the workouts. My body feels great. My energy feels great. I am optimistic. I know it will be hard. I know it will take everything coming together to hit my goal, but I know that I have what it takes and I am ready. No matter what the result, I will give it my all on Sunday and that is all I can ask of myself.
The forecast calls for rain. No matter what the conditions are, they will be way better than they were in Boston this year! I will lean on the encouragement and the amazing tenacity and performances of so many friends who crushed Boston despite dismal conditions. I will be surrounded by friends and my biggest fan and there is nowhere I would rather be on that day. I will continue this story on Monday – on my flight home from the race. Let’s do this!
Post Race Report
I am now on the plane on the way home from Oregon. I am tired, hungry, and my legs hurt, but I am completely content. It wasn’t a “perfect day” but I honestly wouldn’t change anything. My two main goals were a BQ time and to do my best, with no regrets, and I accomplished both!
The weather was the big question for the weekend. Would it rain during the race? It rained most of the day Saturday and the hourly forecast called for rain before, during and after the race on Sunday. We planned our outfits and strategies knowing we would get wet. When we woke up on Sunday the first thing I did was check the weather and I was thrilled to see that there was no moisture in sight, just cloudy skies, mild breeze, and no anticipated precipitation until 11am. Praise God! We changed our entire clothing strategy (and were thankful we brought lots of options with us) and were optimistic for the day ahead.
My pre-race routine consists of a hot shower and time in the compression boots as soon as I get out of bed. I used the time in the boots to look up inspirational quotes and do some prayer and visualization. My pre-race “breakfast” consisted of 2 scoops of Ucan chocolate with protein mixed with some water into a pudding consistency and a package of Clif Bloks (Black Cherry!)
My friend Shahnaz drove down from Corvalis to spend the weekend with us. We met the first day of 6th grade at the Albuquerque Academy and became inseparable for the 3 years we lived in the same city. She has lived, worked and traveled all over the world and I have had the fortune of visiting her in some amazing places (Costa Rica and New Zealand most recently). Shahnaz and Todd studied the race map on Saturday and figured out where she could find us on the course and mapped out her split times, her own race and fueling strategy to make sure she could be in optimal locations at the right times. She drove us to the start and we arrived around 6:25am (for a 7am race start).
We stopped at the porta potties and made our way to the entrance of Hayward Field where we connected with two other friends, Seth and Jason, who were running the 1/2 for a hug, photo, and then headed to the starting corral.
I opted for my CWX compression running tights to have the support on my full legs for the run. I also wore a medium weight long sleeve shirt and my hydration vest. I decided wearing my vest was the best way for me to carry my fuel, electrolytes, and be able to drink whenever I wanted it. I wore this vest for the majority of my workouts and all long runs so it felt natural to wear it. I also wore an old pair of pajama bottoms, a disposable jacket, ear warmers and a pair of gloves with hand warmers in them to stay warm right up until the race started. The weather was quite pleasant, but one of my strategies is to stay warm so I don’t waste any energy being cold and so my muscles are ready to go when the race starts. After the National Anthem we prayed, handed our extra layers to Shahnaz and got ready to go.
This race provided pacers – runners who planned to finish at a certain time. We had the opportunity to meet them on Saturday at the expo and to talk to them about their overall pacing strategy. There was a pacer for 3:35 and one for 3:45. This was a tough choice for me as my goal going in was 3:40. If I went with the 3:35 group it might be too fast and I could risk blowing up. If I went with the 3:45 group I would have to negative split (run the 2nd half faster) and there would be no wiggle room. Both pacers were really nice, and the 3:45 guy said he was planning to come in around 3:42 or 3:43. The 3:35 guy was also planning on at least 2-3 minutes. Initially we were going to run with the 3:45 group until the halfway mark and then take off if I was feeling good. We lined up in the corral and noticed the 3:45 pacer was 20 yards behind us or so. We decided to let him be behind us and that if he passed us we would work to keep up, but otherwise we would do our own thing. We did meet a woman on Saturday as we were talking to the 3:45 pacer. She came up to talk to him at the same time and had the same goal and overall strategy I did. I was thinking after we left the expo I should have asked her name. Well, I saw her coming out of a porta potty and introduced myself. Her name was Anne, and she ended up running with us for quite a while.
The race started and we settled in. There was a good amount of people but it wasn’t overwhelming. Overall I felt great. Excited to be there, excited about the weather and excited to see what I would have for the day. The first several miles just clicked away. Our pace was right on target. Todd, Anne and I were running together, chatting a little but not too much. Anne was trying to have a full conversation but I wasn’t going THAT easy! After 7 miles or so she either got tired or got the hint that I wasn’t able to say more than a few words at a time.
In the first several miles we noticed that some of the roads were angled a bit for drainage. We worked to run on the flattest part of the road. Todd noticed around mile 5 or 6 that we were likely adding distance to the run because our Garmins were giving us the mile notification well before the official mile marker flags. We were right on at mile 1, and then got further apart each mile. By the end I had run 26.35 miles (instead of the official marathon distance of 26.2).
There were only a couple of notable hills on the course. The last one that was any length was close to the 8 mile marker. Todd said he was feeling a bit of a rough patch going into the hill so I encouraged him not to burn any matches going up the hill, to moderate his effort and use his turnover and speed to catch back up on the downhill. And that was the last time I saw him until the finish line.
Anne and I stayed together until mile 14 or so. One thing I really noticed was at each aid station how she would have to slow down to take on fluids and then surge a bit to catch back up to me, as I didn’t take any fluids and just kept a consistent pace through the aid station, avoiding any other crowds or people slowing down. I was glad to be able to keep my own consistent pace. The first 10 miles were anywhere from 8:09 to 8:30 pace, with most of them right around 8:20-8:25 – right where I wanted to be.
My fueling strategy was a Huma Gel every 40-45 minutes and a Salt Stick tab every 30. A couple of times I felt a little stomach distress right after taking in a gel, but it generally subsided within 5-10 minutes. Looking back I can see that I didn’t practice taking on gels going at a higher effort/intensity. I would generally have the nutrition on board before the effort or during a rest interval in between hard efforts. I could tell that my body needed more nutrition and more salt than “usual”. More nutrition for the harder effort and more electrolytes because of the humidity. We didn’t have any precipitation during the race but the humidity was 100% at the start. After the half way point I increased the frequency of my intake and it’s very possible that I didn’t take in enough electrolytes overall given the amount of salt on my face and body after the race.
We started at the same time as the 1/2 marathoners and split from them between miles 10 and 11. We hit the halfway mark at 1:50 – right on pace for 3:40. The miles were getting a touch slower, but still well within the anticipated range and I was still feeling good. Around that time I was going to tell Anne that she didn’t need to stay with me, that she should go ahead if she felt good. I had this idea that she was feeling much better and more comfortable than I was. But I never got a chance to tell her that because after the next aid station when she went to get some water I never saw her again!
The person that I did see over and over again was Shahnaz. She was at SEVEN different spots along the course, in addition to the start and finish. I had a good idea when I might see her based on her race day strategy and she was wearing an amazing fuchsia coat that was easy to spot. Seeing her along the course helped me so much. Most often (until the end) when I would see her, I noticed that my mile split was faster.
Around mile 16 I started to feel some hot spots underneath my fourth toe on each foot. I have had some blisters in this spot during my training so I knew that was likely what was happening. I had slathered them up very well, but with the humidity, sweaty feet, and sensitive skin, it was probably inevitable. I did my best not to dwell on it, when I would remember the pain I would think about the movie we watched the night before – Without Limits – chronicling the runner Steve Prefontaine. He ran a race once with way more foot pain than I was experiencing!
Around mile 18 I started to slow a bit. Still in the range, but starting to feel the fatigue. At 19 I knew I was about an hour from the finish. The last 10k was tough. A lot of internal talk. Encouraging myself. Telling myself that this is where I excel, where I am built for distance, that nothing is going wrong, that I am exactly where I want to be, that this is where I embrace my training, that discomfort is the currency of my dreams. I thought about all of the people who would love to be running but aren’t able to for so many reasons. I thought about the strength of my friends – the physical strength of fellow athletes, the emotional strength of those going through really hard times, I thought about all of the loved ones praying for me and sending me strength. And I prayed a lot. Early in the race I turned it over to God. I said “not my will, but yours be done”. Whatever race God had for me – I was open to that. I wanted to race in a way that was honoring to Him and not be totally caught up in my own goals and dreams and not be appreciating the surroundings, the other people, etc.
I think it was at mile 18 that I saw a yellow spectator sign that said “No Regrets”. That one stuck with me. I repeated that to myself so many times in the last hour. A couple of times my mind tried to tell me that I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t qualify, but I wouldn’t allow that in. I was not going to give up without giving it everything that I had.
I had a second screen set up on my watch to tell me average pace for the whole run so I would know how I was doing compared to my goal but I never looked at it. I knew I was giving it my all, and whatever the time was going to be, it was going to be. My legs were screaming at me. I didn’t know if it was muscular fatigue, needing more electrolytes, or both. I wanted to cry. I wanted to stop. People were passing me that looked so smooth and strong – some talking to each other – I wondered how they could possibly be chatting! And I passed others who were clearly hurting worse than I was. The wheels weren’t falling off, but I was working HARD to go 9 minute miles in mile 24 and 25.
I dug deep. I sang some songs that I make up when I am going through these tough mental times. I prayed for Todd. I knew I would finish but I didn’t know what the time would be. In the last 1/2 mile or so I passed the 3:35 pacer who was clearly hurting. Good thing I didn’t try to stick with him! As I approached the road and the entrance to Hayward field I looked down at my watch – 3:43. I didn’t think I was going to make it. No regrets. I was going to give it my all and that’s all I could ask for. I dug deep. My legs were screaming at me. I entered Hayward field and gave it all I had. I think between the fatigue and going all out I had tunnel vision as I don’t remember much. Shahnaz was there (of course!) screaming “you did it” and I was thinking, “no I didn’t!” Then I crossed the line and stopped my watch.
I broke out into tears. So much pain. So much work. So many hours training. I did it. I left it all out there. I gave it my all. No regrets.
I could hardly walk, or stand, or sit. Everything was in so much pain. We waited for Todd to finish. He came in with a similar emotional experience. Different emotions for him – but emotional nonetheless. His main goal was to pace me for the first several miles to get me into a rhythm and he totally accomplished that. He also experienced a lot of leg pain (and some foot issues) that made the last 10 miles pretty rough, but it was a solid day of training and fitness in the bank for him that will set him up for an amazing tri season to come.
So I qualified for Boston. I am so proud of the work I did to get here. I won’t likely get in with only a 9 second cushion, but honestly I’m okay with that. It was going to be a tough choice on timing anyway. I have two other big goals this year. One is a solid performance at Ironman Canada on July 29th and the other is to qualify for Team USA in the long course triathlon at Miami Man 70.3 in November this year. We just found out a few weeks ago that the World Championship event will be in late April next year (in Pontevedra, Spain), so it would have been less than 3 weeks between Boston and Worlds. That was going to be a tough choice that now I don’t likely have to make. I still qualified. I still accomplished my goals, and maybe actually running the Boston marathon will have to wait until 2020. The cool thing is that now I know it’s possible! Not easy by any stretch, but possible.